Muddy Backyard Solutions: How to Help Drainage for Lawns

At this time of year, rainfall is prevalent across the US — especially in states like California, where prominent flooding and mudslides are rampant. 

Lawn enthusiasts, take note. 

After a long winter, you’re ready to kick start your lawn-care schedule into action for the upcoming spring season. 

However, there’s one slight problem. A muddy backyard. An unintentional pond isn’t high on the list of how to achieve a pristine golf course lawn

A waterlogged lawn can be incredibly detrimental to your grass’ long-term health. Poor lawn drainage can prevent oxygen (one of the key components of photosynthesis) from penetrating roots, suffocating your grass, and creating an ideal breeding ground for fungi and moss. 

It’s not only fungi and moss you need to worry about. Certain weeds like Ground Ivy and moss will make the most of damp lawn conditions. It’s imperative that if your grass becomes waterlogged, you’ve got the complete know-how on lawn drainage solutions. 

That’s where Golf Course Lawn Store can lend a helping hand. First, let's diagnose common lawn flooding problems before moving on to treatment and preventing long-term damage. 

Related: How to Get Rid of Moss in Your Lawn


Common Causes of Poor Lawn Drainage

Despite what you may think — soil is a living thing. Soil contains thousands upon thousands of insects and microorganisms which help keep it healthy. 

Soil can also be temperamental. Several factors can affect your soil’s water retention capabilities and even the quality of the soil itself. A home soil test kit can help you determine how healthy your soil is. 

To determine the cause of your lawn drainage problems, cross-reference this list for common soil issues. 

  1. Clay soilCommon in the states, clay-based soil is clumpy, dense, and a little too good at retaining moisture. Unfortunately, its density doesn’t bode well for air and water circulation. You can tell your soil is clay based by digging up a little and seeing if it sticks together easily. 

  2. Buried treasure? — No sign of clay soil, but a lake forms on one patch of your lawn. Why? It could be underground obstructions like rocks, debris, or concrete buried under your lawn’s surface, affecting lawn drainage.

  3. CompactionCompaction is probably the most common cause of poor lawn drainage. Frequent heavy foot traffic or machinery pushes down earth, compacting it and making it hard for water and air to penetrate grass roots. 

  4. Running down that hill — The bottom of slopes and hills are more susceptible to waterlogging, where rainwater collects, and soil cannot drain quickly enough. 

Luckily, some easy lawn drainage solutions are out there to remedy your muddy backyard. Moreover, these muddy backyard solutions are environmentally friendly, so you can go about your lawn-care regime guilt-free!

Lawn Drainage Solutions

Whether it’s dense clay soil or hard compaction, we’ve got some simple lawn drainage solutions you can do yourself. 

Lawn Aeration

Lawn core aeration on tall fescue grass

Aerating your lawn is crucial to your lawn’s health. Aeration reduces compaction and improves the circulation of nutrients, water, and air your grass needs to thrive. Aeration can improve fertilizer uptake and even water quality

The process involves pulling out soil plugs from your lawn with a tool. These soil plugs eventually decompose, which in turn adds high-quality nutrients back into your soil. 

We recommend that you aerate your lawn in late March — but this is dependent on when your grass starts coming out of dormancy post-winter. Core aerate your grass by punching 4-6 inch holes into the turf to remove plugs of soil. 

If you’ve core-aerated your lawn, topdress it by adding a thin layer of compost and raking it over the plug holes. This is a good way to replace clay particles with loose, organic matter if your soil is clay-based. Over time, this can improve the overall porosity of your soil. 

You can hire a professional to aerate your lawn or you can buy a core aerator and do it yourself. Spike aeration involves driving thin spikes into the soil to loosen it.

TOP TIP: To save the cost of hiring a professional or buying an aerator, use a hoe or rake for spike aeration instead.

Dispatch a Dethatch 

Guilty of not clearing away your grass clippings properly? Thatch, made up of dead grass and organic matter, prevents water and nutrients from permeating the soil. It’s also a breeding ground for pests and fungi

Dethatch your lawn using a manual rake, power rake, or tow-behind dethatcher to improve lawn drainage. Or, try verticutting your turf, which uses vertically-orientated blades to slice up thatch without damaging healthy grass blades. This makes sections of thatch easier to remove and encourages new grass growth. 

Organic Matter: Matters

Soil organic matter is fundamental to your soil’s health, and, in turn, your turf. Organic matter includes living and dead organisms in varying states of decomposition. 

Woman holding worms with soil, closeup

Although organic matter only amounts to 2-8% of all your soil, it has a crucial role in keeping your grass thriving: 

  • Through microbe decomposition, essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and sulfur help your grass grow. 
  • Organic matter provides habitats and food for a diverse range of soil organisms which can help strengthen your grass’ response to pests and diseases. 
  • It gives your soil a better structure for grass roots to push through to find the water, air, and nutrients your lawn needs to survive. 
  • It improves drainage and oxygen availability in wet or clay-based soils.  

You can either make your compost from dead leaves and kitchen scraps — or invest in a high-quality fertilizer. For a great starter fertilizer for beginners, we recommend this one from Lebanon Turf.  

On most bags of fertilizer, you’ll see three numbers laid out like this: 0-0-0. This represents the content of each essential macronutrient (nutrients your grass needs in large amounts). Abbreviated to “NPK”, these nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. You’ll find a comprehensive guide to lawn fertilization, including tips, products, and methods here 

To apply organic matter on your lawn, spread it with a shovel and use a rake to disperse it evenly without smothering your grass. About an inch of compost and a year is a good rule of thumb to stick to. If you’re reseeding grass, make sure you work 1-2 inches of organic matter into your lawn before planting new turf to give it the best possible start. 

For a detailed breakdown of topdressing, take a look at our step-by-step lawn-care guide and check out the video below.

Say Goodbye to Poor Lawn Drainage

All lawn drainage solutions we’ve covered in this article are cost-effective and easily achievable with a bit of commitment. But your lawn drainage issues might be a little harder to fix. For instance, if you have a runoff rainwater problem, as your backyard is at the bottom of a slope, water won’t be able to drain efficiently — no matter what you do. In such cases, installing a drainage system might be your only answer. 

French drains, dry wells, swales, and dry creek beds can all help disperse and channel excess water elsewhere. It’s a big commitment, but installing a drainage system will improve your drainage in the long run. Good luck on your journey to achieving a golf course lawn, and remember to subscribe to our YouTube channel!

Healthy food, healthy body. The same applies to your lawn! Take a look at our blog on the importance of soil testing and how it can save you money.